Diabetes is a major public health issue that is approaching epidemic proportions globally. Its prevalence has been rising more rapidly and significantly particularly in Africa where middle- and low-income countries have become a hotspot for the menace. From 1980 to 2014, the number of people affected by diabetes almost quadrupled from 108 million to 422 million worldwide, or a growth in diabetes prevalence of 4.7% to 8.5%.
Furthermore, about 18 million people die every year from cardiovascular disease, for which diabetes is a major predisposing factor.
According to the World Health Organization, diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. In 2014, it was reported that 8.5% of adults aged 18 years and older had diabetes while in 2016, diabetes was the direct cause of 1.6 million deaths and in 2012.
This growth trend is not expected to stop or slow in the future. According to the IDF Diabetes Atlas, by 2040, the number of diabetics worldwide is expected to grow to 642 million, representing a potential future healthcare crisis for patients and providers alike.
The majority of diabetic cases occur in developing countries, Nigeria inclusive, representing a high proportion of the disease’s economic burden. Diabetes is now emerging as an epidemic of the 21st century. It threatens to overwhelm the health care system in the near future.
Sadly, the majority of the people with diabetes in developing countries are within the productive age range of 45 to 64 years and this is quite evident in Nigeria. These are the same individuals who are expected to drive the economic engines of countries in order to achieve already set international development goals.
Besides reduced productivity, diabetes further imposes a high economic burden in terms of health care expenditure, lost productivity and foregone economic growth. The healthcare costs are also expected to balloon. In the years between 2007 and 2012, the total healthcare costs associated with diabetes rose from $174 billion to $245 billion, or 41% in just a 5-year period.
These huge figures have proven beyond reasonable doubt that diabetes has really become a scourge of the 21st century. How then can this global epidemic be tackled?
To curb the scourge of diabetes, public health interventions are essential to prevent the disease or delay the onset of its complications. This will demand intensive lifestyle modification for those at risk of diabetes and aggressive treatment for those with the disease.
Furthermore, a high risk approach targeting individuals at risk of diabetes and a population or public health approach aimed at reducing the risk factors for diabetes at the community are necessary.
However, knowledge is the greatest weapon in the fight against diabetes. Information can help people assess their risk of diabetes, motivate them to seek proper treatment and care, and inspire them to take charge of their disease.
It is therefore in the interest of the country at large to design and develop a comprehensive health promotion strategy for diabetes and its related risk factors.
It is equally important to design and implement suitable diagnostic, management and treatment protocols for people with diabetes.